My first experience with Devin Townsend was when he opened for Symphony X about two years ago. To say the least, I was not impressed. In fact, I do not think I could distinguish a single note or lyric throughout the entire set. But no matter what websites or reviews I would read, his name would continuously pop-up. So I decided to check out Accelerated Evolution, and since that day I have become a fan of both Strapping Young Lad, and his moniker band. By no means have I ever considered either to be in my league of absolute favorites. Well, for the past 30 days or so I have been listening to a copy of this album on an average of once per day, and now I see the Townsend world with new ears. And although the grandiosity of Synchestra has given me a newfound level of appreciation for all of Devin’s work, nothing can match the scope, originality, and passion of this masterpiece.
One of the greatest pleasures of listening to this album is when I finally received my pre-ordered copy. The crystalline production allowed the music to pulsate throughout the house, and there were no more one-second lags between tracks. Instead, the entire album flowed seamlessly from one note, one emotion, one composition to the next with not a moment of silence, demonstrating the cohesiveness and pervasive themes that make this whole infinitely better than the sum of its parts.
This experience begins with two tracks running less than three minutes each, “Let it Roll” and “Hypergeek”. Neither is so much a song as they are the first steps on a magnificent journey. “Let it Roll” starts with scintillating melodies which echo folk music, even including a nod to Irish folk with the repeated “let it roll, lassie roll”. Though touching, the music starts out sparse. But of course, Devin’s production genius surfaces early as the bass and drums come in forcefully, but with overall volume still suppressed. Even after the electric distortion comes in with earth-shattering bass bombs, the song comes to a close before really foretelling of the storm to come.
“Let it Roll” segues into “Hypergeek”, which takes the tranquilly paced folk of the opener, and turns the speed up a notch, conjuring images of mystical deep forest folk capering and drinking mead on a midsummer’s day. If you don’t believe me at first, wait until the saloon piano, banjo (or something of the like), and flute chime in, bringing this joyous melody to an invigorating peak. Then it stops…the only pause on the album…a muffled “AYE!”
The music charges forth with no restraint and leaves you wondering where you will be whisked off to next, having already experienced something so epic in less than 8 minutes.
Though both of Townsend’s main projects utilize a crushing avalanche of sonic force, it has always impressed me how The Devin Townsend manifestation actually sculpts this force into epic melody. And if this incarnation (as opposed to Strapping Young Lad) has become known for creating chugging monsters of larger-than-life grace, then Synchestra takes this grand sound to a whole new level.
And that’s not to say that Synchestra is an all-out shiny happy fest, though that’s the way The Devin Townsend Band tends to lean in comparison to SYL. “Pixillate” begins with some haunting eastern chanting and a bass line that forewarns of something dark and twisted. An orchestra of sound ensues, all building on the warped foundation before morphing into a more triumphant exaltation led by some exquisite female vocals.
Also present are a few tracks of more straightforward rock, most notably “Gaia”, “Sunset”, and the closer, “Sunshine and Happiness”, and one bizarre freak-fest “Vampolka”, which gives way to “Vampira”, a mind-blowing love child of dark power metal and 80s hair band theatrics. Whether rocking out, freaking out, tearing through, or building up though, Synchestra pushes its agenda through some of the best metal production around. It absolutely boggles my mind how Townsend can barrage the listener with such cluttered and distorted sound, yet each instrument is heard so clearly that the true intricacies of this seemingly simplistic music can be heard. Synthesizers, layered vocals, crunchy, distorted guitars, bombastic bass, orchestral flourishes, mesmerizing tribal drumming, and the trademark spectrum of emotive Townsend vocals (which have absolutely never sounded better) all fill the air until silence has not a grain of space in which to hide, yet any part of the sum can be isolated and appreciated.
Unfortunately for many metal bands with early year releases, it seems that their albums are often over-looked at the year-end’s top lists. For rabid fans of music, this is most likely due to our insatiable hunger for new meat. Still, we all know of those rare dishes that come along whose savory flavors always lurk in the back of our minds. I predict that at the end of 2006, metal fans will not easily forget who gave them meat to start the year. I’ll second Mr. Batmaz’s call for a bound to be top release of the year.